Horses help disabled kids

Lance Myers, 5, rides 5-year-old Joe on Friday as his mother Lexie Myers guides the horse around the arena at the barn south of Clovis. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth.

By Jack King

Two Curry County women have found a way to turn their shared passion for horses into a method for helping the disabled.
Lexie Myers and Kathy Stallings have formed Mini-Blessings Inc., a private, non-profit corporation whose goal is to provide therapeutic riding for the disabled. From Nov. 11 through Dec. 31 they will offer their services free of charge to qualified clients, although in 2004 they hope to be able to charge for the work, they said.
Myers said she first learned about using horses as therapy tools from some of her husband’s cousins. Their 2-year-old daughter is profoundly disabled, she said, the victim of several birth defects, and has undergone hundreds of hours of physical therapy. But the family found she got the most relief when they put her on the back of a horse.
“After she’s been on the horse, she’s very relaxed and they can continue with other types of therapy,” Myers said.
Myers, who owns a farm two miles north of Clovis, and Stallings, who owns a farm five miles south of Clovis, got to know each other through exhibiting horses at the Curry County Fair. Both own and raise miniature horses and Stallings also has raised Appaloosas. They already knew the attraction horses have for children.
“They’re like magnets. I already was taking miniature horses to schools, Bible schools and birthday parties,” Myers said.
They were excited by the idea of using their horses for therapy, but it took a year of research before they found the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association. A 39-year-old organization headquartered in Denver, Colo., the NARHA offers insurance and a 50-hour training course for riding instructors who want to work with the handicapped.
NARHA is dedicated to the idea that horses can be significantly helpful for those with disabling conditions like multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, attention deficit disorder, sight and hearing disorders, learning disabilities, even partial paralysis, Myers and Stallings said.
Renee Casady, an Ohio licensed physical therapist who also is a certified NARHA riding instructor, said she has seen the benefits of using horses in her work.
“As a physical therapist, I work on movement control. In a clinic I’d use a ball, a balance board or a swing; a horse is a tool I can use to work on the same skills,” she said.
Casady said a horse can have other, less quantifiable, benefits.
“I’m a pediatric physical therapist. When these kids have been in therapy for a long time, if you put them in a different environment they can blossom,” she said.
Casady cautioned that the “therapeutic riding” offered by NARHA riding instructors is not the “physical therapy” a licensed therapist would provide. A licensed therapist is trained to observe and understand a great many things about a client’s nerves, muscles and bones that a certified riding instructor is not, she said.
Stallings agreed, saying she and Myers are not pretending to be therapists. But they’re not just offering horse rides, either, she said.
“Each client will have to fill out a questionnaire and we will do an interview. Some may need a doctor’s referral. If they need a physical therapist, they will be required to have one present when they ride. But some children, such as those with ADD, don’t need a therapist present,” she said.
Myers and Stallings added that, since Mini Blessings Inc. has received its 501(c)(3) status, donations to it are tax deductible. They are interested in talking to anyone who would like to donate a horse or horses, they said.
For more information, contact Myers at (505) 760-0558 or Stallings at (505) 760-8535.